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TEDWomen 2010

Sheikha Al Mayassa: Globalizing the local, localizing the global

December 2, 2010

Sheikha Al Mayassa, a patron of artists, storytellers and filmmakers in Qatar, talks about how art and culture create a country's identity -- and allow every country to share its unique identity with the wider world. As she says: "We don't want to be all the same, but we do want to understand each other."

Sheikha Al Mayassa - Founder, Doha Film Institute
Sheikha Al Mayassa is the young and progressive force behind Qatar's mission to become the Middle East's foremost destination for the arts and culture. Full bio

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Both myself and my brother
00:15
belong to the under 30 demographic,
00:17
which Pat said makes 70 percent,
00:19
but according to our statistics
00:21
it makes 60 percent of the region's population.
00:23
Qatar is no exception to the region.
00:26
It's a very young nation led by young people.
00:28
We have been reminiscing about the latest technologies
00:31
and the iPods,
00:34
and for me the abaya,
00:36
my traditional dress that I'm wearing today.
00:38
Now this is not a religious garment,
00:40
nor is it a religious statement.
00:42
Instead, it's a diverse cultural statement
00:44
that we choose to wear.
00:47
Now I remember a few years ago,
00:49
a journalist asked Dr. Sheikha, who's sitting here,
00:51
president of Qatar University --
00:54
who, by the way, is a woman --
00:56
he asked her whether she thought
00:58
the abaya hindered or infringed her freedom in any way.
01:00
Her answer was quite the contrary.
01:03
Instead, she felt more free,
01:05
more free because she could wear whatever she wanted
01:07
under the abaya.
01:09
She could come to work in her pajamas and nobody would care.
01:11
(Laughter)
01:14
Not that you do; I'm just saying.
01:16
(Laughter)
01:18
My point is here, people have a choice --
01:20
just like the Indian lady could wear her sari
01:22
or the Japanese woman could wear her kimono.
01:24
We are changing our culture from within,
01:27
but at the same time
01:29
we are reconnecting with our traditions.
01:31
We know that modernization is happening.
01:33
And yes, Qatar wants to be a modern nation.
01:35
But at the same time
01:37
we are reconnecting and reasserting our Arab heritage.
01:39
It's important for us to grow organically.
01:42
And we continuously make the conscious decision
01:45
to reach that balance.
01:47
In fact, research has shown
01:49
that the more the world is flat,
01:52
if I use Tom Friedman's analogy,
01:54
or global,
01:56
the more and more people are wanting to be different.
01:58
And for us young people,
02:00
they're looking to become individuals
02:02
and find their differences amongst themselves.
02:04
Which is why I prefer the Richard Wilk analogy
02:06
of globalizing the local
02:09
and localizing the global.
02:11
We don't want to be all the same,
02:13
but we want to respect each other and understand each other.
02:15
And therefore tradition becomes more important,
02:18
not less important.
02:20
Life necessitates a universal world,
02:22
however, we believe in the security
02:25
of having a local identity.
02:27
And this is what the leaders of this region
02:29
are trying to do.
02:31
We're trying to be part of this global village,
02:33
but at the same time we're revising ourselves
02:35
through our cultural institutions and cultural development.
02:38
I'm a representation of that phenomenon.
02:42
And I think a lot of people in this room,
02:45
I can see a lot of you are in the same position as myself.
02:47
And I'm sure, although we can't see the people in Washington,
02:49
they are in the same position.
02:52
We're continuously trying to straddle
02:54
different worlds, different cultures
02:56
and trying to meet the challenges
02:58
of a different expectation
03:00
from ourselves and from others.
03:02
So I want to ask a question:
03:04
What should culture in the 21st century look like?
03:06
In a time where the world is becoming personalized,
03:09
when the mobile phone, the burger, the telephone,
03:12
everything has its own personal identity,
03:15
how should we perceive ourselves
03:17
and how should we perceive others?
03:19
How does that impact our desert culture?
03:21
I'm not sure of how many of you in Washington
03:24
are aware of the cultural developments happening in the region
03:27
and, the more recent, Museum of Islamic Art
03:30
opened in Qatar in 2008.
03:32
I myself am personalizing these cultural developments,
03:35
but I also understand
03:38
that this has to be done organically.
03:40
Yes, we do have all the resources that we need
03:42
in order to develop new cultural institutions,
03:45
but what I think is more important
03:48
is that we are very fortunate
03:50
to have visionary leaders
03:52
who understand that this can't happen from outside,
03:54
it has to come from within.
03:56
And guess what?
03:58
You might be surprised to know that most people in the Gulf
04:00
who are leading these cultural initiatives
04:03
happen to be women.
04:05
I want to ask you, why do you think this is?
04:07
Is it because it's a soft option;
04:10
we have nothing else to do?
04:12
No, I don't think so.
04:14
I think that women in this part of the world
04:16
realize that culture is an important component
04:19
to connect people
04:21
both locally and regionally.
04:23
It's a natural component
04:25
for bringing people together, discussing ideas --
04:27
in the same way we're doing here at TED.
04:30
We're here, we're part of a community,
04:32
sharing out ideas and discussing them.
04:34
Art becomes a very important part
04:37
of our national identity.
04:39
The existential and social and political impact
04:41
an artist has
04:45
on his nation's development of cultural identity
04:47
is very important.
04:49
You know, art and culture is big business.
04:51
Ask me.
04:53
Ask the chairpersons and CEOs
04:55
of Sotheby's and Christie's.
04:57
Ask Charles Saatchi about great art.
04:59
They make a lot of money.
05:02
So I think women in our society
05:04
are becoming leaders,
05:06
because they realize
05:08
that for their future generations,
05:10
it's very important
05:12
to maintain our cultural identities.
05:14
Why else do Greeks demand the return
05:16
of the Elgin Marbles?
05:18
And why is there an uproar
05:20
when a private collector tries to sell his collection
05:22
to a foreign museum?
05:24
Why does it take me months on end
05:26
to get an export license from London or New York
05:28
in order to get pieces into my country?
05:31
In few hours, Shirin Neshat, my friend from Iran
05:34
who's a very important artist for us
05:37
will be talking to you.
05:40
She lives in New York City, but she doesn't try to be a Western artist.
05:42
Instead, she tries to engage
05:45
in a very important dialogue
05:47
about her culture, nation and heritage.
05:49
She does that through important visual forms
05:51
of photography and film.
05:54
In the same way, Qatar is trying to grow its national museums
05:56
through an organic process from within.
06:00
Our mission is of cultural integration and independence.
06:03
We don't want to have what there is in the West.
06:06
We don't want their collections.
06:08
We want to build our own identities, our own fabric,
06:10
create an open dialogue
06:13
so that we share our ideas
06:15
and share yours with us.
06:17
In a few days,
06:19
we will be opening the Arab Museum of Modern Art.
06:21
We have done extensive research
06:24
to ensure that Arab and Muslim artists,
06:26
and Arabs who are not Muslims --
06:28
not all Arabs are Muslims, by the way --
06:30
but we make sure that they are represented
06:32
in this new institution.
06:34
This institution is government-backed
06:37
and it has been the case
06:39
for the past three decades.
06:41
We will open the museum in a few days,
06:43
and I welcome all of you to get on Qatar Airways
06:45
and come and join us.
06:48
(Laughter)
06:50
Now this museum is just as important to us as the West.
06:52
Some of you might have heard
06:56
of the Algerian artist Baya Mahieddine,
06:58
but I doubt a lot of people know
07:01
that this artist worked in Picasso's studio
07:03
in Paris in the 1930s.
07:06
For me it was a new discovery.
07:08
And I think with time, in the years to come
07:10
we'll be learning a lot about our Picassos,
07:13
our Legers and our Cezannes.
07:15
We do have artists,
07:17
but unfortunately we have not discovered them yet.
07:19
Now visual expression is just one form
07:22
of culture integration.
07:25
We have realized that recently
07:28
more and more people
07:30
are using the means of YouTube and social networking
07:32
to express their stories, share their photos
07:35
and tell their own stories through their own voices.
07:38
In a similar way,
07:40
we have created the Doha Film Institute.
07:42
Now the Doha Film Institute is an organization
07:44
to teach people about film and filmmaking.
07:47
Last year we didn't have one Qatari woman filmmaker.
07:50
Today I am proud to say
07:53
we have trained and educated
07:55
over 66 Qatari women filmmakers
07:57
to edit, tell their own stories
07:59
in their own voices.
08:01
(Applause)
08:03
Now if you'll allow me, I would love to share a one-minute film
08:09
that has proven to show
08:12
that a 60-sec film can be as powerful as a haiku
08:14
in telling a big picture.
08:17
And this is one of our filmmakers' products.
08:19
(Video) Boy: Hey listen! Did you know that the stocks are up?
08:22
Who are you playing?
08:25
Girl: Uncle Khaled. Here, put on the headscarf.
08:27
Khaled: Why would I want to put it on?
08:29
Girl: Do as you're told, young girl.
08:31
Boy: No, you play mom and I play dad. (Girl: But it's my game.)
08:33
Play by yourself then.
08:36
Girl: Women! One word and they get upset.
08:38
Useless.
08:41
Thank you. Thank you!
08:47
(Applause)
08:51
SM: Going back to straddling between East and West,
08:58
last month we had our second Doha Tribeca Film Festival
09:01
here in Doha.
09:04
The Doha Tribeca Film Festival
09:06
was held at our new cultural hub, Katara.
09:08
It attracted 42,000 people,
09:11
and we showcased 51 films.
09:13
Now the Doha Tribeca Film Festival
09:15
is not an imported festival,
09:17
but rather an important festival
09:19
between the cities of New York and Doha.
09:21
It's important for two things.
09:24
First, it allows us to showcase
09:26
our Arab filmmakers and voices
09:28
to one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world,
09:30
New York City.
09:32
At the same time, we are inviting them
09:34
to come and explore our part of the world.
09:36
They're learning our culture, our language, our heritage
09:38
and realizing we're just as different
09:41
and just the same as each other.
09:44
Now over and over again,
09:47
people have said, "Let's build bridges,"
09:49
and frankly, I want to do more than that.
09:51
I would like break the walls of ignorance
09:53
between East and West --
09:55
no, not the soft option that we have discussed before,
09:57
but rather the soft power
10:00
that Joseph Nye has spoken about before.
10:02
Culture's a very important tool to bring people together.
10:05
We should not underestimate it.
10:08
"Know thyself,"
10:11
that is the journey of self-expression and self-realization
10:13
that we are traveling.
10:15
Now I don't pretend to have all the answers,
10:17
but I know that me as an individual
10:19
and we as a nation
10:21
welcome this community
10:23
of ideas worth spreading.
10:25
This is a very interesting journey.
10:27
I welcome you on board
10:29
for us to engage and discuss new ideas
10:31
of how to bring people together
10:34
through cultural initiatives and discussions.
10:36
Familiarity destroys and trumps fear. Try it.
10:38
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much. Shokran.
10:42
(Applause)
10:45

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Sheikha Al Mayassa - Founder, Doha Film Institute
Sheikha Al Mayassa is the young and progressive force behind Qatar's mission to become the Middle East's foremost destination for the arts and culture.

Why you should listen

As chairperson of the Qatar Museums Authority (QMA), Her Excellency Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani uses the rich history of her country to drive education and cross-cultural interaction today. The QMA’s flagship project is the Museum of Islamic Art, an institution built to serve as the world’s center for education and information on art in the Muslim world. According to H.E. Sheikha Al Mayassa’s vision, the museum will not only preserve and document the vast diversity of Islamic art, but also provide a welcoming place for the international community to learn more about an often-oversimplified culture.

Sheikha Al Mayassa has committed to fostering diversity and creating opportunity for all. She is also the chairperson for Reach Out to Asia (ROTA), an organization that is trying to provide access to education for underserved populations throughout Asia, regardless of gender or age. She’s continuing her own education by pursuing a graduate degree at Columbia University in New York.
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